THIS IS what we want. Cross-border competition of intensity and quality. This is what we want more of. That has been the clarion call from many, not all of course, of Britain's leading clubs over the past couple of seasons. On the evidence of the fare served up in front of a vociferous and festive crowd of 5,000 in Treviso it is difficult to take issue with those far-sighted people.
The rationale to extend domestic competition and increase the frequency of fiercely contested matches is flawless. The route, however, is rather more circuitous, with hidden agendas and self-interest providing obstacles on the way.
Cardiff were highly impressive and inventive throughout as they broke new ground by becoming the first Welsh club to taste victory on Italian soil in any European competition. In Neil Jenkins they possess the game's most potent points machine, and he finished with a 25-point haul to become the first player to pass the 300-point barrier in the Heineken Cup.
This was a huge game for Cardiff. After squeezing a rather unimpressive victory at the Arms Park last week against the same side, they were aware that only a high-octane performance would suffice against enthusiastic and competent opponents. Defeat would have ended Cardiff's European hopes, and chairman Peter Thomas estimated could have cost the club up to pounds 500,000 in lost prize money and gate receipts if they failed to progress to the semi-final stages.
One area where Cardiff have excelled this season has been their innovative centre combination of Leigh Davies and Gareth Thomas. From the first scrum, a Jonathan Humphreys strike against the put-in, Davies carved out a huge opening in the Treviso defence and Thomas' 50-metre gallop was only stopped with a desperate, lunging ankle-tap from the opposition scrum-half, Andy Moore. Treviso infringed at the breakdown and Jenkins slotted the penalty.
Robert Howley was next to snipe, courtesy of a wheeled scrum on Cardiff's own put-in, and it was encouraging to see the Welsh scrum-half razor sharp and back to form.
A number of sorties followed on the Treviso line and Cardiff moved further ahead when prop Andrew Lewis, in good fly-half fashion, sidestepped through to send Thomas over for the try. Jenkins converted, and Cardiff were flying.
Despite Cardiff's early onslaught Treviso regrouped, with Andy Moore, Jason Wright and Adriaan Richter to the fore. Wright's little chip brought an unnecessary late tackle from Dan Baugh, and full-back Corrado Pilat opened Treviso's account.
Pilat added his second penalty after 25 minutes, following sustained Treviso pressure which was countered by some impressive Cardiff rearguard defence, but Cardiff had lost some of the early initiative. Rhys Williams, the young Cardiff full-back, pulled off a great try-saving tackle on Wright and his efforts were rewarded when Cardiff worked their way upfield on the half- hour for Jenkins to add a penalty for handling in the ruck. Just before the interval the Cardiff wing Liam Botham expertly caught his own risky chip ahead to link with full-back Williams and Davies, for the latter to send his partner Thomas striding over for a superb try. Jenkins converted, and right on half-time slotted his third penalty to give Cardiff a 23-6 advantage.
Treviso attacked Jenkins' poor restart; Pilat kicked ahead, and a lucky bounce coupled with nice footballing skills saw him pounce for a try which he converted himself.
Pilat and Jenkins exchanged penalties before Howley claimed a pushover try after a number of previous attempts by the Cardiff scrum. Jenkins converted and managed to add his own converted try to secure a superb, and crucial, away victory for Cardiff.
Treviso: C Pilat; M Perziano, M Gallan, J Wright, N Mazzucheo; J Benade, A Moore; G Grespan (S Saviozzi, 60), A Moscardi (N de Menghi, 60), F Properzi, C Signori, A Gritti, C Checchinato, A Sgorlon (O Arancio, 60), A Richter.
Cardiff: R Williams; L Botham (N Rayer, 76), L Davies, G Thomas, N Walne; N Jenkins, R Howley; A Lewis, J Humphreys, D Young (S John, 75), S Moore (C Quinell, 40), J Tait, D Baugh (G Kacala, 56), M Williams, E Lewis.
Referee: M WhyteReuse content